Fermented foods have been around for centuries and first consumed by Asians, together with their tofu and miso. Historians credit nomadic herdsmen in Central Asia for starting the entire yogurt craze, likely around 6000 BC, After they milked their animals, they stored the milk in containers made of animal stomachs, which tended to cause curdling and fermentation. After a long day, what went in as milk become a custardy food as it sloshed around in the containers. And there it was– instant yogurt. Before cattle were domesticated, other herded animals, like sheep and goats, provided the foundation for the majority of dairy products.
The term berry originated in Turkey, where the practice of fermenting milk caught on in a big way. (So for all you men out there who think yogurt is for sissies, think again.) The first references to yogurt are in Turkish writings during the 11th century, but it is believed that yogurt was consumed with honey because the first Bible times. Other countries seasoned it with seeds and spices, enjoying its smooth creamy texture. There are as many variations as there are states, and its popularity spread long before its health benefits were completely understood. Middle Eastern nations used yogurt in many dishes centuries before it found its way to Western Europe.
Because yogurt comprises good bacteria, it was believed to have curative powers especially for digestive and intestinal abnormalities. Francis I, a potent late fifteenth century French monarch, supposedly was relieved of his chronic diarrhea by a physician who prescribed a daily helping of yogurt, and word soon spread throughout Western Europe.
In the country of India, a similar version called da-hi is a popular accompaniment to native hot entrees. Often made from yak or water buffalo milk, it’s also consumed in Nepal and Tibet and regarded as a staple of the simple diets. Iranians love yogurt as a side dish, often combined with cucumbers and other vegetables, and a popular substitute for sour cream. Lassi and kefir are different forms of yogurt in a liquid form among Indian and Middle Eastern cultures. Americans still favor their own versions of yogurt and rarely venture out of the comfort zone. They have welcomed it into their diets, frequently as a substitute for vegetables oils, salad dressings, sour cream and mayonnaise.
Turkish immigrants brought their cherished yogurt to North America in the 1700s but it did not gain much popularity before the mid-1940s. Probably not. Virtually confined to big cities and cultural communities on the East Coast, it surely wouldn’t have been a big hit on the frontier, either.
From the early 20th century, it had been seen strictly as a”health food” and consumed by those who had gastrointestinal challenges. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg served it every day at his Battle Creek Sanitarium, where people flocked to experience his remedies eating a limited diet. Due to the lactobacillus part, it encouraged healthy probiotics in the intestines and stomach, and boosted digestive enzymes. Presumably the first commercial yogurt business, a little mom and pop business named Columbo yogurt set up shop on the East Coast in 1929.
About the same time that Americans were noshing the creamy foodstuff as a”health” food, a guy named Isaac Carasso began commercial production in Barcelona, Spain. He named his business Danone, following his son Daniel. When the family arrived in New York, they opened their business in the Bronx and re-named the business Dannon. As it gradually became mainstream, no longer seen as only a faddist food for stomach ailments, they took over a little yogurt mill in New York and the rest is history. From the late 1940s it was still foreign to the vast majority of Americans, so the Dannon people additional fruit, which made the sour flavor a little more palettable. Today Dannon markets their yogurts worldwide. The founder’s son Daniel lived to the ripe old age of 103, attributing his longevity to a lot of yogurt.
In recent years, Greek yogurt has made a big impact, because of its thicker and richer consistency, nosing out lower fat and more watery predecessors. New on the scene are varieties claiming super-sized quantities of live probiotics, in already-overcrowded milk pieces, hoping to lure customers who wish to boost their gut bacteria.
Of course, yogurt is now commonplace in our modern diet and loved in its original state as well as a frozen treat. It’s estimated that 75 percent of adults consume it in some form weekly. But recall the additives and higher sugar content to adapt the American palette, which would certainly knock down it on the healthy foods scale. Eat it for pleasure, but do not delude yourself that it’s a bona fide”health food.” Most yogurts are essentially ice cream with a little bacteria thrown in.